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READ WRITE INSPIRE. Welcome to my Words, a place devoted to making Reading and Writing for children more Inspired.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

What's a Postmodern Picture Book? AFCC Sessions Part 8

Me and Dr Ruth Wong
Perhaps one of the most stimulating sessions I moderated was Dr Ruth Wong's Interactive Narration: Having Fun with Postmodern Picture Books. 

Now although I consider myself a voracious and reasonably well-informed reader of picture books, the term 'postmodern' did befuddle me a little. It wasn't until I delved a little deeper into definitions that I realised, I had been savouring this style of picture book narrative for years. So what exactly is a postmodern picture book and what value do they represent for young readers. Ruth was on hand to explain.

Characteristics of Postmodern picture books:
  • Directly addresses the reader, thus acknowledging readers as active agents of the reading process
  • Offers an overt invitation to interact and play or involve the reader with the book, not just the story
  • readers become participants (good for one on one reading)
  • Emphasis on implications for teaching and allowing educators to appreciate learning through FUN
  • Non-linear in design
  • They are 'aware' of themselves as books and often include self-referential elements
  • They can distance readers from the text, often frustrating traditional reading expectations, forcing readers to utilise more interpretive strategies in order to make sense of the text. 
  • Often sarcastic and cynical in tone
  • Contain overly obtrusive narrators
  • Contain narrative framing devices e.g. stories within stories
  • May feature illustrations of a pastiche style
In short, a postmodern picture book is the paper equivalent of an interactive story, one that most Gen Z children associate with some type of device to bring to life.

With the emphasis on fun and reader involvement, creators of this style of narrative are able to educate children in a surreptitious, engaging and entertaining way. Dr Ruth provided plenty of examples, many you probably already love, for example, Wolves by Emily Gravett. One of the more recognisable is the recent Do Not Open This Book by Andy Lee, the premise of which has of course been done several times before, but is a joke in the eyes of youngsters that never grows old.

To ensure the audience understood the jokes and meaning behind this narrative style, Ruth then enlisted yours truly to demonstrate with an ad hoc reading session. They results were illustrated by David 'Wolfie' Liew, below (I was Little Red Riding Hood).

Another favourite homegrown example is Deborah Abela's just released, Wolfie An Unlikely Hero - outrageously funny and one hundred per cent interactive. 

Not every postmodern picture book embraces each of the above characteristics of course but the minute you open one, you'll immediately recognise what sets it apart from its neighbours on the bookshelf. Use them to supplement your diet of picture books for the sheer joy of it. Their attention grabbing qualities speak for themselves, as it were 😝

For the final chapter on the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2017 and my own presentation, come back soon.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Books Shaping the World - AFCC Sessions Part 7

Robyn Soetikno and Dimity
One of the highlights of the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2017 for me was the honour of moderating a number of sessions for other conference presenters. Through the pre-requisite to understand their topics and their associated backgrounds with Kids' Lit better, I was able to forge some truly rewarding relationships with people from Thailand, Singapore and, in the case of Robyn Soetikno, Indonesia.

Robyn's session - Books for Indonesian Girls by Indonesian Girls: How Children's Books Shape Perspectives of the World focused on her new series aimed at young pubescent Indonesian girls.  

The I Am Me series is a rigorously researched and thoughtful set of bilingual picture books designed to educate, inform and empower young girls with realistic expectations and useful information about their changing bodies and feelings. Bright, bold and unashamedly unambiguous, Robyn drew on her extensive health care industry background to develop this concept.

It was a delight to behold this young, exuberant, focused individual describe the creative process that resulted in this series and how she plans to tackle a similar one for boys. Equally gratifying was the positive reception received from the packed room of delegates, males and females alike.
Robyn prepares to deliver the stories behind her I Am Me series

Coming soon, more picture book love and interactive storytelling.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Everything in Moderation - AFCC Sessions Part 6

A memorable part of being involved in this year's Asian Festival of Children's Content was being asked to moderate a number of sessions for other presenters in addition to presenting my own.

This was an opportunity I whole heartily embraced for it suggested a much more involved, hands on chance to become more intimately acquainted not only with some erstwhile unknown movers and shakers in the Kids' Lit stratosphere but also the topics they chose to discuss. I discovered, this in turn enhanced my own presentation for I was able to draw comparisons and find connections for delegates attending my session, thus providing a lovely continuity of content discussion.

Whilst session moderating here in Oz suggests enthusiastic time keeping, in Singapore it took on a deeper responsibility involving pre-conference hook ups with the session presenters, research of their topic (and books), compilation of topics for Q & A, on site note swapping and general session support. At one stage I was even involved in an ad hoc performance as part of the presentation. Lots of fun, intense interactive involvement and, perhaps most significant of all, a chance to forge genuine relationships with even more like-minded people made moderating a truly enjoyable experience.

Here is the first session I stumbled my way through. I say stumbled because it takes a moment or three to adjust speaking to a room of 120 odd eager delegates madly trying to tune into your Aussie accented pronunciation of some challenging Asian names, but once I did, there was no stopping me.

Jane Vejjajiva and Dimity Powell
Jane's first novel, The Happiness of Kati
Improvising Your Way Out of Writers' Block with Jane Vejjajiva, moderated by moi

Jane is a Thai award-winning author and MD of her own Publishers' Agency, Silkroad. She has translated many notable literary works for the likes of J. K. Rowling and Kate DiCamillo. She is also the sister of the former Thai Prime Minister,Abhisit Vejjajiva and perhaps one of the loveliest warm souls I have ever met.

Her presentation focused on that old chestnut - writers' block and how to use spontaneity and improvisation to overcome it. She compared the Plan, Plot, Map method of writing (the Plotter) vs. Asking Questions and writing instinctively and at random (the Panster) with a gentle suggestion that to over come true blockage the latter might be more beneficial.

Here is her (anti-) Writers' Block Checklist:
  1. Let the characters and situations lead
  2. Be random and spontaneous
  3. Take a break (chocolate or holiday, your choice)
  4. Read = Reading is the Creative Centre of a writer's life
  5. Forget deadlines
  6. Believe in yourself
  7. Buy time e.g. with dialogue = take time to learn about your characters
  8. Go back to the your original source of inspiration and delve deeper into it
  9. Revive themes
  10. Keep it real
  11. Be honest - stick to your style - don't try to copy
  12. Polish that style and or dig hard for it
  13. Keep a bit in reserve, ie. don't kill yourself trying to finish a scene...leave yourself hanging so you are eager to return to it the next day 
  14. Ask What if? ... often
  15. Don't Panic It will pass
  16. Improvisation can be divine and fun - head off the beaten track for yourself and your characters, you never know what you might discover
Interestingly, how to over come sticky spots in plot, what do do at road blocks and how to end a great story are all questions I am often asked by kids in writing workshops, let alone adults, so Jane's calm and considered suggestions provided great solace and some interesting topics for further exploration.

Come back soon for more highlights on the next couple of sessions I was lucky enough to moderate.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Give them What They Want - AFCC Sessions Part 5

Throughout the Asian Festival of Children's Literature, I recognised a certain camaraderie of spirit among delegates and presenters alike. There pervaded a keen will to not only create emotionally and socially educational stories (or content) for kids that is both genuine and entertaining but to also somehow ensure that this content reaches it mark. In short, there exists in SE Asian a strong desire to share exciting, meaningful stories with kids from early childhood that offer them more than just a sound base from which to learn and excel academically.
Sketch by Favian Ee AFCC 2017

This is no easy feat for we creators, nor for the educators on the front line, in schools and libraries who may sometimes be restricted by mandates to deliver a certain type of content. This restraint of course is not exclusive to Singapore and her surrounding neighbours. So what do teachers really want? This next session highlighted some of the answers.

Books Teachers Wish Authors Would Write with Nadine Bailey, Rilla Melati, Myra Garces-Bacsal

The crux of this matter depends on what teachers are actually teaching and their knowledge of the reading material available to them. How they relate this to their audience, their students reflects this knowledge.

All panel members (Teacher Librarians, Educators and Creative Content Directors), stressed that teachers must first be avid readers themselves. This was critical to the comprehension and flow of knowledge.
Sketch Artist, Melissa Tan's visual interpretation of the session

Here is a list of their WANTS:

  • More picture book biographies i.e. of obscure unknown individuals that pushed values and boundaries and succeeded in impressive ways. But not didactic, dry life stories. There must be emotional connections.
  • More meme like and Visual Literacy based narratives
  • More picture books for older readers!! Some things best conveyed through art and picture books encompass art
  • More comics and graphic novels = gateway to literature to excite and engage
  • Texts that require kids to think for themselves, which might be more ambiguous and encourage them to draw their own conclusions and discoveries.
  • Narrative non-fiction of Pan Asian inter and intra Asian stories
  • Social justice – human rights based stories
  • Rich Visuals and excellent design e.g. Stormy Seas
  • Graphical Interface = sophistication
  • On line and offline fantasy / reality integration
  • Contextual content relevance e.g. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan, which echoes multiple stories and voices.
  • Books where the main attributers are not what the stories are about

    Here are the No More Please requests:

    • Outdated, poorly designed and text heavy books
    •  Preachy, didactic moralistic message based books
    • Gender and cultural essentiallising
    • Rhyming (verse novels OK)

    Remember: Children will listen to an entertaining story but will turn off if you attempt to lecture them. Messages must therefore be cloaked in great, stimulating storytelling.

    Look for Creative Solutions

    Kids love to LAUGH. Give them something funny, sinful, rule breaking and oh, yes, that includes farting and you will have a winner. 😂

    Tune in again soon for session feedback on the presentations I moderated. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Stories Alive - Interactive Narrative and Cross Media Story Telling - AFCC sessions Part 4

Winter marks the release of yet more of my picture book stories into the wide blue yonder. This is an exciting time for me and those lucky enough to be flying Virgin Airlines, plugged into the Children's Inflight Entertainment program for that is where you will find my stories, as part of the new Kindergo immersive story app.

They are stories aimed for younger audiences, bouncing with fun and frivolity and like my previously published digital narrative, The Chapel of Unlove on the Story City App in 2016, fulfil a maturing desire to expand my repertoire and use of cross media platforms to tell my stories. But what exactly is cross media story telling? What are the various platforms to exploit and how can creators used to pen and ink utilise them?

Story Telling Across Platforms with Jyotirmoy Saha

This session was moderated by the blatantly cheeky, creative industry crackerjack, Marc Checkley. Between them, they described the conception and development of a Filipino based interactive narrative that utilises a number of platforms to not only procure a strong audience base but also engage and maintain them over an extended period of time.
Jyotirmoy Saha Founder of August Media, an IP production company

Jyotirmoy Saha (aka Moy) described how their project, Barangay 143, although Filipino based and local in content, has global appeal and property potential. He outlined that by introducing characters and story lines to readers / players over a staggered period of time and via a selection of media, such as games and through social media, by the time the television series debuts, readers are all ready invested in the story.

By building on each medium's strengths, they are able to provide a multifaceted story presentation and experience. Moy pointed out that this style of story telling is not actually new, the most prevalent and successful example of cross media involvement to date being, Star Wars. It's all about reinvention, diversity, thinking outside the box  and encompassing as many platform stratagem as possible.

He reminded us that no one under 17 does not know what an interactive screen is. As story spinners we must be aware of that and readership expectations. Timely advise indeed, underlined again by the next speaker.

Bringing Stories to Life Using VR & AR with Gerald Cai.

Gerald Cai, Managing Director & Co-Fonder of SnapLearn
This topic fascinates me and drew a full crowd again as Gerald explained the differences between VR (virtual, fully immersive reality) and AR (augmented, overlaying digital experiences through publishing engines that enhance physical stories) technology and the reasons we sometimes feel the nauseous effects of the former.

AR for instance revolves around the physical book and storyline however when used in conjunction with an app, takes the reader into another level of the story, provides added or complementary content or involves them directly somehow in the story.

I snapped up one such AR interactive book at the AFCC festival book stands, A Fun Introduction to Chinese Festivals by Aspirin & Young, Seen Vision. I'll let you know how modern technology has improved my knowledge of ancient festivals.....and Chinese.

He outlined the strengths of these platforms in delivering story. They:
  • reinforce
  • slow pace
  • give structure
  • encourage thinking and therefore LEARNING
Asian Festival of Children's Content launch of SnapLearn VR series
By rearranging content to suit these mediums, the technology then:
  1. Improves knowledge retention
  2. Collects data - leading to better understanding of reader habits - in turn enabling better audience targeting
In this new age where education revolves around data retrieval and the ability to think critically rather than just rote learn dumps of information, surely this is a path worth exploring.

Come back soon for the next session on Interactive Narration - having fun with post modern picture books.